Hermina Ibarra, “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader”





Reviewed by Femflection


Herminia Ibarra is a professor of Leadership and Learning, the Chair of the Organizational Behavior department, and the founding director of “The Leadership Transition” executive education program at INSEAD. She is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council, and consults with a wide variety of companies around the world in the areas of leadership development and talent management, with a special focus on women and leadership.


  • “The paradox of change is that the only way to alter the way we think is by doing the very things our habitual thinking keeps us from doing.”  
  • “To become a successful leader, you have to ditch the conventional ‘think before doing’ logic and instead start acting like a leader in order to start thinking like a leader.”
  • “Until you can feel it in your bones, it’s very hard to have thinking drive your behavior.”
  • “It’s all too easy to fall hostage to the urgent over the important.” 
  • “No one pigeonholes us better than we ourselves do.” 
  • “If you don’t create new opportunities within the confines of your “day job,” they may never come your way.”
  • “The end of all our exploring,” as T. S. Eliot reminds us, “will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” 
  • “You can only learn what you need to know about your job and about yourself by doing it – not just by thinking about it.”
  • “There really is no such thing as a ‘born leader,’ and no one correct way” to become accustomed to leading, you have to try things and experiment with different approaches until you find you’ve grown into it. It takes time, so be generous and a bit forgiving of yourself.”
  • “Authenticity as a leader is an outcome, not a starting point, and your true self as a manager isn’t going to be the same as your old self.”
  • “The way you actually become really authentic is by changing and adapting and by doing so, you remain true to yourself in an evolving way…we all want to be ourselves at work but we want to be ourselves in a way that takes into account growth and evolution.”
  • “Be more playful with yourself, which involves changing your leadership style and how you see yourself and others see you, so that you become a good fit for your new leadership role.”
  • “Effective leaders create and use networks to tap new ideas, connect to people in different worlds, and access people for radically different perspectives.”


This book shows that the most effective way to change is through action, not analysis, and by learning from experience, not introspection.

The book’s key message applies to us all: if we want to think like a leader, we need to act like one first.

In “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader”, Hermina Ibarra offers advice to help you:

  • Redefine your job in order to make more strategic contributions;
  • Diversify your network so that you connect to, and learn from, a bigger range of stakeholders;
  • Become more playful with your self-concept, allowing your familiar—and possibly outdated—leadership style to evolve.

Ibarra turns the usual “think first and then act” philosophy on its head by arguing that doing these three things will help you learn through action and will increase what she calls your outsight—the valuable external perspective you gain from direct experiences and experimentation. As opposed to insight, outsight will then help change the way you think as a leader: about what kind of work is important; how you should invest your time; why and which relationships matter in informing and supporting your leadership; and, ultimately, who you want to become.

In order to “Redefine Your Job” leaders should:

  • bridge across diverse people and groups:  “outsight” comes from a range of outsiders where a leader can then develop differing points of view to see the big picture of opportunity.
  • envision new possibilities: developing and articulating what Ibarra calls “an aspiration”.
  • engage people in the change process: encapsulated by the formula “the idea + the process + you = success in leading the change”
  • embody the change: leaders need to utilize their charisma to help get things done.

To help actualize the redefinition of a job, Ibarra recommends leaders make their job a platform. The platform can be inculcated by actions such as getting involved in projects outside your area, participating in extra-curricular activities and creating slack in one’s schedule.

The second key pillar to the Outsights model is to “Redefine Your Network”.

Ibarra describes three different kinds of networks that can play a vital role in helping you step up to leadership.

  • Operational networks include the people on whom you depend on in order to get your work done. These include your direct reports, your superiors, people in other units, and key outsiders. A good operational network gives you reliability, but it’s unlikely to deliver value beyond helping you accomplish functional objectives and assigned tasks.
  • A good personal network gives you kindred spirits, and it can provide you with important referrals. But it also absorbs a significant amount of time and energy.
  • Your strategic network consists of relationships that help you envision the future, sell your ideas, and get the information and resources you need to exploit these ideas. By definition, a strategic network has to include people and groups that can help you compete in the future. A good strategic network gives you connective advantage: the ability to marshal information, support, or other resources from one of your networks to obtain results in another. Many people lag in creating a strategic network, so Ibarra presents a number of practical and helpful suggestions.

The third component of the Outsights model is about “being  more playful with yourself”

As much as transitions require us to move way beyond our comfort zones, they can also trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our past identities. We easily retreat to old habits, especially those that have been rewarded in the past.

Making significant changes, not just in what we do but how we do it, requires a playful frame of mind.

Ibarra recommends that people think of leadership development as “playing with” rather than “working on” their identity (which, let’s face it, is not much fun).

When we adopt a playful attitude, we’re more open to a diverse, even divergent, set of possibilities. It’s OK to be inconsistent from one day to the next.  We’re not being a fake. That’s just how we figure out what’s right for the new challenges we face. The trick is to work toward a future version of your authentic self by stretching way outside the boundaries of who we are today.

A brilliant book! Strongly recommended.

Want to buy book


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